“Bristolians ready for 20mph limits, but need police support to make it a reality” say UWE Bristol researchers

Issue date: 14 January 2014


20mph sign fixed to a lamp-post

Professor Clive Nancarrow and Professor Alan Tapp of UWE Bristol's Social Marketing Centre have analysed the results of a recent YouGov survey of Bristolians and concluded that although support is strong for the new 20mph scheme, enforcement by the police will be needed to make it workable.

A recent YouGov survey of Bristolians has found a clear majority of support for 20mph speed limits in residential streets (65% support or strongly support) and busy shopping areas and busy streets (75%). When asked for reasons to support 20mph limits, perhaps not surprisingly road safety and children's safety are where the public's collective priority currently lies, although other reasons - such as making our streets more pleasant to live in, encouraging more walking and cycling, reducing noise and improving the quality of life all received somewhat more approval than in Great Britain as a whole.

These findings are encouraging for Bristol City Council, who have plans to further roll out 20mph limits across residential areas and other busy streets in phases through to 2015. On the issue of the level of support amongst different demographics within the city Professor Clive Nancarrow of UWE-Bristol's Social Marketing Centre said, “In Bristol we found a higher level of support for 20mph amongst women (72%) than men (58%). Interestingly in the GB survey there was also an association with voting intention which was mirrored to some extent in Bristol with a higher level of support for 20mph limits amongst Green, and Labour voters.

But will motorists obey the new limits?

Professor Alan Tapp, also of UWE Bristol, reports a potentially worrying divide in attitudes. While a majority of drivers, 63%, agree that they 'will be careful to observe new 20 mph limits wherever they are', nevertheless a large minority, 34%, say 'If a 20mph speed limit is introduced, I may not stick to it.Other data may provide clues as to why this divide exists. For instance over three quarters (77%) of adults in Bristol agree that breaking speed limits is not acceptable in most circumstances and nearly two thirds of Bristol adults think most people drive too quickly. But on the other hand 28% of drivers agreed 'I use my own judgement, not speed limits, to decide on my speed on the road', while 48% thought 'It is just too difficult to stay at 20mph'. Almost a third of people (30%) thought that 20mph is an example of a nanny state; and a small minority (7%) demonstrated their libertarian beliefs agreeing that 'I think people should be free to drive at whatever speed they want to'.

Alan Tapp commented: “Apart from these divides in attitude, the City Council and 20mph supporters in general need to also be aware of a possible 'vicious circle' effect, in which those who want to comply with the new limits may be put off from doing so because they are affected by the driving behaviour of others: 40% of drivers said they 'tend to drive at the speed of others on the road'. This 'copycat effect' may be compounded by a feeling amongst the large majority - 75% of Bristol drivers – who agreed that 'People will ignore 20mph limits because they don't see themselves getting caught by the police'. That's why clear and unequivocal police support for 20mph limits would be very welcome for those who want a new culture of driving at slower speeds in built up areas.”

Mayor George Ferguson said, “20mph limits will help make Bristol streets safer and healthier. Lower speed limits do take a bit of getting used to but my experience is that drivers and local communities do adjust their speeds. We'll be monitoring the impact of the scheme once it is live and are confident that it has remarkably little effect on journey times and will result in positive change within our local communities in the coming years.”

-ENDS-

Editors Notes

Fieldwork was contracted to YouGov, a large UK provider of online social and market research. The total GB sample size was 3,074 GB adults. The effective sample size, i.e. the sample size that is permissible for statistical tests after weighting procedures, was 2,947. There were also sample boosters in some cities and towns with 20mph limits for separate analysis including Bristol which had a sample of 500 adults and an effective sample size after weighting of 458. Fieldwork was undertaken between 09/07/2013 - 22/07/2013. The survey was carried out online.

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